Banking group’s agreement on employment and social management of change

In July 2012, the French banking group BNP Paribas signed its first European Framework Agreement with unions. The deal is the first step for BNP Paribas towards the group’s first social charter. The initial agreement deals with employment and the management of change, but future talks will focus on furthering equal opportunities and tackling psychosocial risk factors. As part of the initiative the group has promised dialogue and transparency in its dealings with social partners.

Background

Since 2011, the European Works Council (EWC) at French banking group BNP Paribas has set up working groups on employment, equal opportunities and psychosocial risks. The company, which has 200,000 employees including more than 150,000 in the European Union, wants the groups to pave the way for European social dialogue on these topics.

The issues of employment and social management of change were defined as a priority. They are the subject of the first European Framework Agreement (EFA), signed with the European Federation of Credit Establishment Managerial Staff (FECEC) and the European trade union federation UNI Europa.

The examination of equal opportunities and psychosocial risks by the working groups will lead to future negotiations, with the prospect of agreements being concluded in 2013 and 2014.

In a press release in July 2012, BNP Paribas said the new agreement on employment and the social management of change ‘constitutes the first concrete content of the group’s European Social Charter’. The agreement will be gradually complemented by statements and commitments on other issues, such as ensuring workplace equality between men and women and preventing or addressing psychosocial risks at work.

Before the agreement was signed, it was approved by all members of the EWC. It came into force on 1 September 2012.

Anticipating change

This new agreement includes a first section on anticipating change ‘to ensure that staff and skills are deployed to best effect when making structural and organisational adjustments’. The aim is to present these developments regularly to staff representative bodies or, if they exist, in a place of exchange and dialogue set up at national level between management and staff. This should lead to the establishment of an informal information body in the group’s operations in nine of the 20 countries covered by the agreement, according to Ana Andrade, Secretary of the EWC.

The agreement also stipulates that the BNP Paribas Group EWC select committee will receive information on the development and enhancement of staff. Members will be given supplementary data added to the European social audit report already provided for by the EWC agreement. This will include data needed to evaluate measures intended to improve training or professional mobility, and information on the measurements of the success of these initiatives.

In addition, local authorities and places of information exchange established by the agreement will be regularly informed of the group’s strategy, and of its likely impact on that particular country or region. The group will report on the changes it needs to make so that it can respond as necessary to local operating environments. The group will also consider the possible and foreseeable effects of such changes on staff in each local area. Regular information will also be available on training plans and their implementation.

Appraisal and career interviews

The detail of the agreement harmonises the practice of employee appraisal interviews throughout the Group. The agreement recommends that appraisals be prepared, planned and written after a discussion that must address the subject of training. In addition, career development interviews, which only take place in some countries within the Group, will be extended to the Group’s operations across the whole of Europe.

It is hoped this will lead, on a regular basis, to a ‘forward-looking discussion’ between managers and employees. Such discussions will focus on the strengths of an employee, including their skills and experience, their training needs and career progression. An employee’s aspirations will also be considered, whether they are looking for promotion, to change their job, or are willing and able to move to another location.

Measures to avoid redundancies

In the second section, the agreement addresses ways to manage restructuring. It defines the process of information and consultation to be carried out at local and European level, with a clause stating that the EWC will be informed after the local information and consultation bodies.

The agreement describes the management tools and methods that can be used to adjust the workforce in order to avoid compulsory redundancies. It specifies the conditions for workforce mobility in the context of a reorganisation.

If redundancies cannot be avoided, the Group makes a commitment in the agreement that local legislation relating to time frames and redundancy payments will be strictly adhered to. It states further that ‘these terms may be enhanced subject to discussion or negotiation with local employee representatives’. If necessary, and on a discretionary basis, ‘the redundancy plan could provide for support measures aiming to promote retention of employees or their return to work, such as, for example, outplacements or financial support for training’.

Implementation

In terms of the implementation of the agreement, the monitoring will be conducted annually by the steering committee of the EWC, involving representatives of the two trade union federations who are signatory parties. This is an important issue, as the French trade union confederation CGT stresses in its press release (in French), at the launch of an information exchange platform at national level.

According to Didier Legrand, Industrial Relations Manager of BNP Paribas, the aim of this agreement was to create a concrete outcome from the renewed European social dialogue launched in 2010 with the EWC agreement revision. It also offered the opportunity to share with unions the need for a permanent shift in company culture in order to ensure the development of its competitiveness and employment.

The company also wanted to agree with unions on core measures to be deployed if the company needed to reduce its workforce.

Finally, the agreement has contributed to a greater transparency in the company’s evolution for the benefit of the whole workforce, and to more transparency for each employee in the framework of the appraisal and career interviews.

Commentary

As was the case with the European agreement concluded by the French insurance group Axa (EU1110041I), this agreement relies on transparency and trust as a means of anticipating business change and adapting the workforce to these changes. It is based on trust between the social partners and an ability to share confidential information.

Frédéric Turlan, IR Share

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